USC coach Lincoln Riley has long credited Mike Leach for igniting his coaching career.
Riley, who has now coached three quarterbacks to Heisman Trophy wins, struggled to earn any playing time as a reserve Texas Tech quarterback. He knew the offense better than anyone else, but a shoulder injury he sustained his senior year at Muleshoe High limited his effectiveness throwing the ball. Riley was likely to be cut ahead of the 2003 season, so Leach asked the 19-year-old to join his coaching staff as a student assistant.
Riley made the most of the opportunity to soak up essential traits of Leach’s Air Raid offense, fast-tracking his ascent as a young college football coaching star.
The USC coach joined many others honoring Leach after the Mississippi State coach died Monday night following complications from a heart condition at the age of 61. Leach is survived by his wife, Sharon, and four children. He was a head coach for 21 years.
Riley posted on Twitter Tuesday morning: “Coach – You will certainly be missed, but your impact on so many will live on. – Thankful for every moment. You changed my life and so many others. All of our prayers are with Sharon & the Leach family – Rest In Peace my friend.”
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who also was part of Leach’s staff at Texas Tech early in his career, posted on Twitter:
“Mike Leach was more than an incredible, innovative, impactful, successful, popular football coach. He was all that as a husband to Sharon and a father to Janeen, Kimberly, Cody & Kiersten! Brilliant, thoughtful, kind man who taught me so much in so many different ways. RIP Coach!
Tributes flowed from both inside and outside the college football world.